Saturday, February 11, 2012

For the Love of Skiing

Catamount, Christmas Day 2011

I first fell in love with skiing sitting on the couch watching Wide World of Sports on Saturday afternoons with my father. He was starting a business and worked Saturdays, coming home in time to take in whatever Howard Cosell had in store for us (this is why I also have a vast appreciation for sports like bob-sledding, boxing, F1 and Indy car racing, not to mention figure skating and women’s gymnastics). We’d watch Franz Klammer, Billy Kidd and Jean-Claude Killy bomb down the mountain and all I could think was, “I want to do that.”

But growing up on Long Island, I was a ‘Flatlander.’ Before high-school, the closest I got to a ski mountain was via a children’s magazine that had a maze puzzle in a ski theme (complete with a glossary of ski terms). I ran my fingers along the various trails, envisioning what it might be like to actually ski down 'cat tracks,' and later thought I had bought my way into the ski culture with the purchase of a tube of ChapStick hawked by Suzy Chaffee.

By high-school, I took advantage of a few school trips to Vernon Valley Great Gorge. I recall Vernon Valley was really nothing much more than a steep parking lot -- in the middle of New Jersey – with snow. Most of the kids who went on the ski trip just stood around smoking and hanging out, just like they did back in the parking lot at school. But being a jock, I hit the slope, quickly realized that skiing was much harder than Franz and his friends made it look.

Fast forward a year or two, and I found myself attending college in the Green Mountains of Vermont where a close friend sold ski passes to Mad River, a ski mountain that dared me to “ski it if you can.” I dared, and headed up to the mountain with six friends who all insisted they’d give me lessons and before we arrived had me nearly convinced that skiing was easy.

Lesson one started in the bar and included more than a few shots of tequila. “It’ll loosen you up.” “Liquid courage,” I remember them saying. By the time we got to lift, I was barely coherent. On the first run, I swear I saw double. Getting down the mountain in one piece was a miracle, so naturally, I thought I’d push my luck.

The second time down, I misplaced my friends (read: they skied off without me), then took a spill that left all my gear strewn across the mountain. A real yardsale. In fact, if I hadn't rented or borrowed it, it would most certainly have been for sale right then and there. Gathering myself up up, I began walking down the mountain, skis over my shoulder when a little boy skied up to me and asked if I was alright. I replied, “Yeah. I’m fine. I’m just terrified,” deciding to keep the part about being drunk and about to puke to myself. Even still, he shook his head and bombed off, his form reminiscent of a miniature Billy Kidd.Hrmph.

Following college, my then boyfriend (who was one step below a Flatlander -- having been born and raised in Brooklyn) and I decided to take a week-long ski trip to Whistler/Blackcomb through the health club where we met. I didn’t dare tell him that I wasn’t a skier, this being our first vacation together and all. Nor did he fill me in on the fact he’d never been on ski mountain either. I guess we both thought we'd wing it.

Going up the mountain on the high speed 20-person gondola I nearly passed out. Not the altitude, but nerves. This was no Vernon Valley, but there we were… what people will do for love.

“I can do this,” I attempted to convince myself.

“God knows I’ve got a good snow plow technique.”

What more could one need?

Terrified that I’d never measure up to the beau's natural athletic abilities, I locked in to my bindings and hoped for the best.

That’s when he came zooming from behind me… in full body crouch, knees in deep bend, heading straight down the mountain, as if a ski jump were about to appear. Eddie the freaking Eagle about to take flight. Thank god he fell over. But then he got up… and tried the same technique again. When I asked him about the possibility of incorporating some slaloming into his ski style, he looked at me as if I was taking the piss.

“That’s not how it’s done.”

After an animated discussion about “how it’s done,” a few more of his attempts at careening straight down the mountain, accented by my attempts to muffle my laughter -- and a near break-up (all the space of about a half-hour) -- I took off my skis and began walking down the mountain...again. Thankfully, he followed, and as if through divine intervention, we passed a sign for a five day ski camp program and signed up. There we took lessons in the morning with other hopeless campers who paid far too much to be skiing in Canada and had far too little business being on such a big mountain. In the afternoon, we did 'free ski' with our fellow campers and instructor, and then hit up Apres Ski. With crisp Canadian beer, a great exchange rate, and even a Picabo Street sighting, I was in ski heaven.

While it rained most of the time at Whistler and we ended up skiing in large plastic garbage bags, we both became fairly decent intermediate level skiers. The following year we traded in the garbage bags for Sun Valley, where I suffered my first ski injury -- torn thumb ligaments and a deep cut to the lip when I jammed my pole into my face. Looking back, I remember I couldn’t open a bottle of beer with my hand for about a year (this was a serious hardship at the time), and eating hot spicy chicken wings was also a challenge (I have a photo to prove it somewhere), I can’t say I wasn’t having a good time. It was just the price I had to pay.

After the beau and I broke I up, I headed back up to Vermont with my friend Jennifer. We joined up with the Swiss Ski Club of New York to endure the strict, regimented fun that only the Swiss seem to be able to force on folks. There were rules for everything. From how to park your car to how to participate in Apres Ski. When Jennifer opted to sleep-in rather than partake in a two hour breakfast debacle, we felt the cold Swiss brush of social disfavor. Still, Jennifer and I put up with the rules for a bit of outdoor activity… and the potential for meeting men. It was a during a weekend with Jennifer at Stowe where I got this little nugget of advice from a woman (with her husband and child) I met on the ski lift.

Woman: “Why are you here alone? You’re so cute, you should have a boyfriend.”

Me: "I just had a bad break-up."

Woman: "Oh why, did you want to get married?"

When I couldn’t respond, she went on:

“Listen, honey. Men? They’re all assholes. This is my third husband (she pointed to man next to her, who slouched silently trying to disappear into his Northface jacket). He’s not much different than the other two. Save your time and your money and when you get married and things get tough, save yourself from a divorce and just work with what you got.”

Horrified, I drove back to NYC that very afternoon and haven’t really skied again… until now.

Settled in with one husband (My first! No trade-ins!) and two cats, John and I decided we’d give skiing a go. We’d done it before (not together), but weekends in the country can get a little dull for me without an outdoor activity, and with Catamount Ski Area just a few miles away, it seemed like a good thing to take up again.

Now for the past two winters, it’s been snow central in the Hudson Valley. Last winter at this time we had two feet of snow on our roof and we were worried about ice dams and the roof caving in from what seemed like a weekly wallop of weather. The two times we went to Catamount, the mountain was heaving with activity… and snow… and vast ski trails... and happy skiers.

In preparation, this May I bought ski passes at a deep discount and this fall we rented and bought gear and other accoutrements – to the tune of an investment of about $1500. We were in the sport. All we needed now was snow.

And so we waited.

And waited.

And waited.

Yeah, this hasn't exactly been a stellar ski season, which makes me wonder if maybe I should have joined the country club and played a few rounds of golf this winter instead. Each time we go (three times now!) I amortize the cost of our outings. Today we’re down to just $200 per person per ski outing. I figure if we ski twice more, we’ll have “gotten our money’s worth.”

But maybe there’s a better way to look at it. I love being outdoors. I love being active. And I love being active outdoors with the person I love more than anyone in the world. I’m no Suzy Chapstick and I’d love to have prettier form, but it’s fun to be able to coast down the mountain for a few hours and then head back home to the kittens for a bowl of chili and a nap.

Not to mention that I’m living out my Wide World of Sports dream.

I’m skiing!

I’m skiing!

This ‘Flatlander’ is… skiiiiing!

Yet always someone who dreams bigger… today I spotted my next goal. A pair of tight, bright, wildly patterned ski wear that can only be described as Spideypants!


I hardly have the ski chops and I barely have the buttocks to pull them off, but one can dream, right?

Yes, Flatlander. One can always dream.